By Theresa Kef Sesay
At the National Stadium on Friday 13 December 2019 His Excellency President Dr Julius Maada Bio commended Her Excellency the First Lady, Madam Fatima Maada Bio, for her determined public advocacy and activism in protecting and promoting the rights of women and girls in the country through her “Hands off our Girls” campaign.
Delivering the keynote address during the Western Area sensitisation event at the National Stadium, President Bio thanked the First Lady for her tenacity, dedication, and commitment to changing the outcomes and for standing up for the girl child. He also thanked development and other partners who had collectively supported the national campaign.
“As a nation, we cannot achieve our goal of sustainable and inclusive human capital development if we exclude women or forever hamper the chances of over half of our population. There is a huge economic, health and social cost when families and the nation deprive girls of access to opportunity.
“The First Lady’s national campaign has been a coordinated pushback at the motives, attitudes, and justifications for discriminating against our girls and women. We will continue to invest in persistent civic education in order to change the old ways of thinking about this clear and present danger to our women and girls. It demonstrates our political commitment at the highest level,” he said.
President Bio also noted that his Government had worked very hard to address the deficits and silences in law and policy and to enforce existing laws and policies without fear or favour. He mentioned that Parliament recently passed a tougher Sexual Offences Act 2019 and they had implemented institutional and policy changes in the judiciary, Police, and among sector ministries to address rape, sexual and gender-based violence, child rights, and access to safe-spaces.
In her statement, the First Lady thanked the President for providing her with the space to champion a national campaign of that nature, saying that that was indicative of his commitment to protecting the wellbeing of women and girls in the country. She commended the Government for the free quality education programme, adding that it would provide a platform for development in the country.
She also called on parents and guardians to provide the required leadership that would enable children to become productive citizens in society. She said early marriage and teenage pregnancy were detrimental to the growth of girls for which she frowned at parents and guardians who had encouraged such practices.
Gender Specialist from the United Nations Fund for Population Activities, UNFPA, Betty Alpha, congratulated the First Lady on the successful launch of the “Hands off our Girls’’ across the country, adding that that was a sign of her determination to empower women and girls. She said they were fully in support of the initiative and assured of their continued support to its implementation.
Mayor of Makeni City, Sunkarie Kabba-Kamara, commended the First Lady for introducing the initiative. She said it was well-received by her people. The mayor also thanked the President for introducing the free quality education programme, noting that that was an investment into the future of Sierra Leone and assured that they would work to support the Government in its successful implementation.
Chairman Council of Paramount Chiefs, Sheku Sonsiama Fasuluku, said that they fully supported the initiative and commended the First Lady for such a laudable venture. He encouraged his colleague Paramount Chiefs to take the message to their subjects at the various chiefdom levels.